Photography: Dakota Sumpter

The Quarterback Competition Was A Focus In Auburn's First Spring Scrimmage

The Tigers hit the practice field for their first 2016 spring football schedule, a session that was a fairly even matchup for the offense and defense.

Chandler Cox (above) runs the football in Saturday's scrimmage. Cox is a sophomore fullback for the Tigers, who is also getting some practice time at tailback this spring.

Auburn, Ala.-- Auburn hit the halfway point of spring football practice on Saturday at the mid-way point of their initial scrimmage in preparation for the 2016 season and Coach Gus Malzahn let his quarterbacks go live as they compete to win a starting role.

“It was good for our quarterbacks,” Malzahn said about each of the players being able to run the ball without the orange no-contact jerseys they normally wear in practices.

“It is very good to evaluate those guys in live situations and it is very good for our defense to have a quarterback go live,” the coach said. “You can learn a lot about the pass rushing and everything that goes with that.

“I thought all three guys, Jeremy (Johnson), Sean (White) and John (Franklin), got some good work and Tyler (Queen) got some good work with the threes. Queen, a redshirt freshman, has been limited in the amount of throwing he can do as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

“Overall, I thought it was a pretty productive day,” Malzahn said. “We got some good information moving forward.”

Asked if it was advantage offense or defense in his eyes, the head coach said, “Sometimes the offense wins, sometimes the defense wins and sometimes it is pretty close. I would say today it was pretty close. We are rotating a lot of guys and letting everybody play.”

Malzahn pointed out that there was so much rotating of players that it is “hard to make a call” on which side of the line of scrimmage was more impressive.

The Tigers began the 100-play scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but approximately halfway through the session they moved to the indoor field because of lightning in the area.

“We tried to give every quarterback equal reps with the ones,” Malzahn said. “We got just about equal with the twos, but John Franklin got quite a bit of work. That was by design just because we didn’t know as much about him as the other guys.”

Franklin, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College, enrolled for classes in January. Johnson and White both started games last season for the Tigers.

“It was good,”?Malzahn said of the quarterback evaluation day. “There were designed runs and we wanted to see how the quarterbacks reacted.”

The most impressive play of the day from the QB group was an 80-yard run by Franklin. Malzahn said he liked Franklin’s big play with his legs, but noted the newcomer had an exchange problem on a handoff that led to a fumble. “It was good for him and it was good for our coaches to see what he needs to improve on.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” said Malzahn, who added, “I thought we overthrew a couple of deep balls. He extended some plays. I?thought Jeremy and Sean did the same thing--they extended some plays down the field. I thought it was good for all of those guys to be live in the pocket, especially when they threw the ball.”

The head coach said that Johnson, a senior, and White, a redshirt sophomore, looked “very comfortable” in the scrimmage.

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Sean White finished the 2015 season as the No. 1 quarterback after returning from a knee injury and a foot problem.

Commenting on Franklin, Malzahn said, “He is still learning the offense. He is eager to learn everything inside and out, but it's a process. We throw a lot at our quarterbacks, and he is trying his best to take everything in. I think he is responding well.”

The Tigers got through their eighth practice of spring training without any injuries. Kamryn Pettway was held out of the session with a hamstring problem, but another sophomore fullback, Chandler Cox, had a good day running the football while lining up at tailback. “He’s a load,” Malzahn said. 

Malzahn said that Cox performed well and that senior Jovon Robinson and junior Roc Thomas, who are competing to be the No. 1 tailback, did a “solid job”

Commenting on early high school graduate Malik Miller, who enrolled at AU in January, the coach said, “Malik got a lot of carries. He made a pretty good run. He just needs to protect that the ball. The young guys, it’s part of the process. He tried to run hard.”

The head coach said he thought the energy was good and noted he saw good things from the defense. “I think our defense will be improved, I really do. They are off to a very good start. They are responding, they are playing hard. We have a lot of veteran guys, we have got some impact players on defense, too, so I think it has been very good competition and today was no different.”

Using SEC officials to work the scrimmage, the Tigers did live punting with Ryan Davis, Javaris Davis and Stephen Roberts getting a chance to do that. “It gave us some good information from a special teams standpoint,” the coach said.

Roberts, who finished the 2015 season as a starting safety, was asked for his take on the scrimmage and he said, “From a defensive perspective, I think we could have done a little bit better with tackling, maybe, but that is the scheme of how we are doing things, just trying to get back in the groove and knowing the coverages. We are just trying to do everything to get better. I think we did alright, but it could've been a better day.

“The secondary did alright,” he said. “We gave up one big play to Roc (Thomas) on a wheel route, but other than that I think we fit the runs really good, came up in pass coverage when we needed to and had our man locked on so I think it was pretty good.”

Robinson, a senior running back, said he liked what he saw out of the offense. “I feel like we did tremendously well. I feel like we executed some of the schematics we have going over all spring and everybody was having fun, everybody was moving fast. We had a pretty good day.”

The Tigers will return to the field on Tuesday for their ninth of 15 spring practices.

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